Saturday, March 6, 2010

Old Vintners Night

Whistlin' Jack Lodge hosts Vintners Appreciation Night each year in March. This year's event was held last Wednesday. It's a time when all the old winemakers can get together and reminisce. This year I sat with Leland and Linda Hyatt, Hyatt Vineyards Winery, John and Ann Williams, Kiona Winery, Paul and Marilyn Portteus, Portteus Winery, and Chuck and Claudia Fiola, Konnowak Vineyard, growers of fine Bordeaux varieties in the Rattlesnake Hills since 1983. The Prestons, Preston Winery, Randy Tucker, Tucker Cellars, and Scott Pontin, Pontin del Roza were there also. It amazes me that the Washington wine industry, which is so new, has forgotten its roots. Missing were John Rauner, Yakima River Winery and Mike Wallace, Hinzerling Winery. I wish they could have attended. They were dearly missed.

I learned that Mike Wallace, John Williams, Randy Tucker, and John Rauner got together back in 1981 to put together (with the help of Helen Willard, partner in Quail Run Winery) the petition to establish the Yakima Valley AVA, Washington's first AVA. They also formed the Yakima Valley Winegrowers Association. Bonair Winery was the 14th member to join in 1986. It was dissolved in 2005 when Steve Burns from the Washington Wine Commission got involved. Two competing organizations emerged, the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail and Wine Yakima Valley.

I learned something else. Most people don't know that Hogue Cellars made their first wines at Tucker Cellars. So many stories that have never been told. It makes me grumpy.

As usual, the party was excellent and the food outstanding - which it always is a Whistlin' Jack Lodge. (No, you won't read about it in the Wine Expectorator because the Wine Commission doesn't promote that part of the state. If it doesn't begin with W it ain't Washington Wine. X,Y(akima), and Z(illah) be damned.) The wine list is predominantly local from older established wineries in the Yakima Valley. What a concept. A great local restaurant with a local wine list. Blasphemy!

The next day, Shirley and I went skiing at White Pass. White pass is the local ski resort where the winemakers all have season passes. They have a high-speed quad, a quad, and two double chairs. They have a great day lodge that serves local wines (Blasphemy! I want California Chabbless!) and microbrews (they do have Bug Light on tap for people who don't drink beer). They also have a mid-mountain yurt. Next year they will double the size of the resort by opening Hogback Basin and a new mid-mountain lodge. The winemakers own private ski area!

We skied with Paul Portteus and John and Ann Williams. John used to be on the ski patrol, but is now retired, but his son Scott Williams still makes wine and patrols the slopes.

Back in the old days, all the winery owners knew each other personally. We all attended everything we could because there were so few of us and only a few main events. Many times I remember standing next to Jerry Bookwalter, Bookwalter Winery, and Mike Moore, Blackwood Canyon. Bonair Winery was alphabetically in the middle.

Those days are long gone. Even after 25 years in the state, most people have not heard of Bonair Winery. (Watch the video.) A lot of the thanks goes to Steve Burns and the Washington Wine Commission. Steve hated the Yakima Valley. It just didn't fit into his concept of what wine country should look like, e.g. the Napa Valley. He actually chartered airplanes (using our money) to fly people to Walla (which has some trees on the hills kind of like the Napa Valley) so they wouldn't have to look at the Yakima Valley. To this date, the Wine Commission arrives from the east, either Pasco or Walla and the furthest they venture into the Yakima Valley is Prosser, often stopping sooner in Red Mountain.

There are so many stories in the Washington wine industry, but the Wine Commission is so disconnected that these stories never are told. Stay tuned, I'm going to tell them and some people aren't going to be happy!

No comments:

Post a Comment